It’s the third of January 2010, and time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we are. (This of this as a version of the annual Christmas letters everybody writes.) Last New Year’s, just six weeks after the accident, Brooke was at the University Hospital, in the acute inpatient rehab facility, still subject to the continuing lung problems he’d had from the beginning—pneumonia, lung collapse, and tremendous difficulty in clearing secretions. But it was a lively place, where he played Bob Marley whenever he was getting moved into the wheelchair or the shower chair, and some of the nurses and aides danced. That was the holiday season: there were hundred of cards all over the walls of his room, and he would entertain the aides and nurses by asking how many duplicates they could find—and nobody ever found them all at once. Believe it or not, Brooke says, that was a fairly happy time, despite the lung problems and the fact of total paralysis. We had just begun this blog, or rather just begun to move beyond simple factual information, so the blog is just over a year old now in recording experiences and meditating on the meaning of them.
So here we are, January 3rd, 2010. The good news is that we are pretty sure that the diaphragmatic pacer implantation will take place in February, though we don’t know how long he’ll be at South Davis after that, completing the vent weaning—we’re guessing a month or two, but of course most of our predictions about time have turned out to be wrong—remember when we thought Brooke would be going home in March of last year?
The not-so-good news is that Brooke has been on bedrest again, following an earlier month of it for the surgical wound after his abcess, this time ever since Christmas. Being in bed constantly and of course in the same room constantly has practically driven him crazy. Indeed, this morning he was talking about hospital-induced psychosis—but today was a beautiful day, almost mild for January 3, and so we took seriously what the doctor had said a couple of days ago: that although his orders were written for bedrest and his best professional advice was to stay in bed until the wound was 100% healed, that the patient always has the right to mobility. He added that there are plenty of patients in this facility who ignore doctors’ orders for bedrest. We interpreted that as an ambiguous message, leaving a loophole in this instance; and considering the preservation of sanity even more important than rapid healing of a wound (which is almost completely healed in any case), Brooke got into the wheelchair this beautiful Sunday afternoon for an hour.
He motored straight outdoors, driving the wheelchair with his head array—down the hall, into the elevator, out the double doors and into the brilliant sunlight of a midwinter day. He could see the snow on the foothills of the mountains behind Bountiful, where the South Davis hospital is perched high enough to afford a view of the both the mountains and the Great Salt Lake; he could feel a crisp wind, but since he’d been wrapped in warmed blankets he didn’t feel the chill. What an adventure, playing hookey, even if it only lasted fifteen minutes or so.
So is this as happy a time as the one we were just describing in University rehab, a year ago? Playing hookey is happy fun. But what about then? It’s amazing how you forget the really bad things, Brooke says—I had a lot of nights in the previous rehab unit that were fairly scary, a lot of close calls, a lot of pain, but what I remember is the lighthearted playfulness of many of the nurses and young aides even though they were serious and competent about their jobs. What I experience here at this skilled nursing facility has a lot of bleak moments, periods of depression, and although the staff is generally kind and competent, there are some who have very little experience at all and so make turnings and transfers difficult. Sometimes I’m extremely frustrated, and sometimes I dwell on the bad moments, and sometimes it’s so bad that I end up dissociating entirely. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the mind over the past fourteen months, it’s the way it has ways of detaching itself from extreme situations and of selectively remembering the good ones.
So what will I remember about this experience after it’s over? About the University rehab, I really do remember primarily the happy moments, the warmth, the camraderie, friendship, even love from the hospital staff back then, as well as of course from friends and family. While there are many nurses, aides, and respiratory therapists on the staff here at South Davis with whom I also have a sense of deeper bond, my memories aren’t as filtered—the hard stuff here is still really present. It goes on every day, and in my worst moments I fear the really hard stuff will never stop. You’d think being turned from one side to the other would be an easy matter, but because it presses down your chest and compromises breathing, it can be very hard. Or eating: tonight, for instance, in the middle of an otherwise touching goodbye visit from a close friend who will be out of town for six months, just as her husband was feeding me some simple food—I forget what—I choked, aspirated. This is simple enough to correct for anybody with normal coughing powers, but for me it’s a challenge, a kind of little respiratory cliffhanger. But, I expect, I won’t remember it in the long run; it’ll be replaced by some of the truly wonderful moments that also occur here: the gentle way I’m sometimes turned, the way some nurses stroke my head or my hair, the way some turn and then fluff my pillow without even being asked, because they know me and know what makes me feel comfortable. There are hundreds of these little kindnesses here; it’s these I’ll remember. Amazing the way the mind filters out the really bad stuff; I don’t know how anyone could endure something like this if they actually remembered what has been going on all along, or didn’t remember the good things that punctuate the bad.